Workforce development remains a priority for Delaware’s life science industry

Gov. Carney. Doug Rainey photo.

Workforce development remains a top issue for Delaware’s biotechnology community.

That was one of the messages from Delaware’s DNA Life Sciences Conference, a one-day Delaware BioScience Association event held at the University of Delaware’s Clayton Hall conference center in Newark.

Delaware Bio CEO Michael Fleming listed workforce development in a short list of priorities for the industry that include a regional focus and strengthening ties with educational institutions.

Leclerc – Doug Rainey photo

“We still have more job openings than people looking for work. It’s better than the opposite but is still a big problem,” said Gov. John Carney, who spoke at the event.

Carney told attendees about his recent trip to Ireland as a member of a state delegation exploring opportunities in pharmaceutical manufacturing.


The tour included a trip to an AstraZeneca site that ended up in Ireland rather than the company’s Newark site, which was on the pharma company’s expansion shortlist.

Despite that loss, Carney, who, like many Delawareans, has family ties to Ireland, said he came away energized by the state’s potential in the bioscience arena. Many of the ingredients that have led to success in Ireland exist in Delaware, Carney said. The state is now the home of NIIMBL, a research organization located at the University of Delaware STAR Campus that focuses on pharmaceutical manufacturing. Ground was recently broken on the Sabre pilot manufacturing site on that campus.

And unlike Ireland, Delaware is strategically located along the I-95 corridor, the home of many pharma and biotech companies in an area stretching from North Carolina to Boston.

The keynote speaker, Olivier Leclerc, a senior partner at the southern California office of McKinsey & Co., also noted that Ireland is known for its low business taxes, an area where Delaware receives criticism.

However, Leclerc agreed that Delaware has many advantages that can bolster its presence in the biotech world.

Fleming – Doug Rainey photo

In his remarks, Leclerc outlined the challenges facing the life science industry, including the loss of revenue when patents expire on blockbuster drugs.

AstraZeneca’s struggles with the “patent cliff” led to the loss of thousands of jobs in Delaware a decade ago, which have been backfilled by growth at other life science companies such as Incyte.

Leclerc said life sciences has shown an ability to adapt to replace lost revenues, navigate the regulatory process, and deal with challenging conditions in global markets. Artificial intelligence is one tool that will aid bioscience in speeding up its development, Leclerc said. The bioscience sector is still in the learning phase on using AI in a way that will not compromise the process of safely bringing a drug to market, he noted.

Both Carney and Fleming pointed to the successes of the bioscience industry, which still has a lower profile among Delaware residents than other sectors of the economy.

According to Carney, the growth in life science jobs from various sources has led to a more balanced economy in Delaware and pointed to success stories like the University of Delaware’s STAR Campus. The diversity has helped Delaware keep a top credit rating on its debt.